Opinion

Modernisation of Madrasas

Arshia Malik | Updated : May 26, 2022, 9:50 am
Arshia Malik
Updated : May 26, 2022, 9:50 am

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As someone who survived a madrasa educated mother run by the Jamaat-e-Islami of Kashmir in the 60s and 70s, I am all for the modernisation of madrasas to bring them on par with modern times and the employability requirements of Indian Muslims in the 21st century. It wasn’t easy dealing with the superstitious, xenophobic and anti-Semitic, anti-Hindu mentality of the woman who is worshipped in India as a Goddess and holds the highest esteem in all cultures of the world.

I am forever grateful for the English-medium education (thanks to a liberal father posted in various states of India) that gave me literacy and reading skills. The attitudes of cousins ostracising me for my fluency, my Indian features, dusky-complexion and enthusiasm for athletics were welcomed because that left me alone to delve into the sciences, biographies, world religions and discussions with learned men and women who had risen above the provincial mentality and had a global outlook; escaping my religious, cultural and provincial conditioning.

When I started researching the Jamat-run madrasas it was shocking to see the curriculum then with not just emphasis on dini-taalim but active discouragement of the Sciences which were seen as Satanic Western influences that could corrupt faith and the impressionable minds of girls and boys. Rote-memory, endless recitations and chanting of verses were encouraged and many a time children suffered the “rod”. The way my mother was brought up, that nurturing was passed on to me at home when I used to be literally kicked out of bed for dawn prayers (a teenager requires 8-10 hours of restful sleep not to mention one actively engaging in sports at school) and the maulvi at home didn’t hesitate to hit if I stumbled in the Arabic lessons.

Being a non-conformist by nature brought the inevitable ‘dunce’ label or as Kashmiri men like to label any outspoken woman as ‘mentally-ill’; had it not been for the wise authors I had been reading, I would actually have believed my bigoted, regressive relatives and my own mother. So when anyone asks why this aggressive advocacy for reform in Islam, Sharia laws and Muslim culture, the reason is our mothers, aunts, grandmothers and women relatives – the first victims of a misogynist conditioning taught by unenlightened, unqualified imams and mullahs. Women uphold the family, they are responsible for the well-being of the entire family and to have a madrasa educated mother in the 80s and 90s did not help the esteem of a fiesty young adult who could clearly see the hypocrisy of her Muslim tribe.


Post-independence when Muslims emerged as the largest minority in India, madrasas became Muslim minority institutions and came under the purview of the Constitutional guarantees given to minority communities, particularly the freedom to practice, propagate religion, manage religious affairs, and establish and administer their educational institutions. I had hoped that the three phases of madrasa modernisation in post-independence India should have brought reprieve to the Indian Muslim women but reading Hem Borker’s ‘Madrasas and the Making of Islamic Womanhood’ made it clear, though everything was on paper, and attempts had been made to modernise them yet there was a huge gap in the implementation of the practices and policies in reality.

The second phase of madrasa reform, covering roughly the 1980s-2000s witnessed increasing attention with the 1986 National Policy of Education and the Programme of Action (1992) recommending what eventually became an Area Intensive Madarsa Modernization Programme suggesting the introduction of English, Science, Mathematics, and Hindi as subjects on a voluntary basis.

The UPA government led by the Congress Party and the Left parties received a lot of flak for sleeping through their tenure and not addressing madrasa modernisation but in fact, the third phase of madrasa modernisation policy gathered new momentum with an increasing focus on institutional mechanisms to standardise madrasa education. Several new institutions were set up to address the concerns of minorities including the Ministry of Minority Affairs, the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, and the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI).

The most publicised policies were the Prime Minister’s New 15-Point Programme for the Welfare of Minorities (Government of India 2006c) and recommendations of the Sachar Committee Report (Government of India 2006d) and the Ranganath Misra Report (Government of India 2007b), which keep getting cited by the Left-Liberal cabal perpetually promoting the Oppression Olympics of Indian Muslims and how they are unsafe in a Hindu-majority India.

All of this becomes moot in the aftermath of the Shah Bano controversy which reflects on the then Government’s vote bank politics when they overrode the Supreme Court of India’s decision in favour of the poor, destitute Muslim woman. Which is why all these institutions erected for Minority Affairs and the policies on paper are just exercises for show, while the actual problem of radicalisation, regressive practices in Islam, xenophobic theology and religious and cultural disempowerment of Muslim women are not addressed effectively, as most of the madrasa graduates because of their emphasis on exclusivity find it difficult to be mainstreamed in an era post 9/11 and Pulwama suicide bombing.

Now that the BJP Government at the Centre, formed in 2014, renewed the focus on madrasa modernisation it was all termed as a humiliation of the Muslim masses, specifically demonizing the Muslim culture and marginalising India’s largest minority. From the Rs 100 crore allocated for madrasa modernization in the Union Budget 2014 to the education and skill development scheme, Nai Manzil, in the Union 2015, aimed at madrasa graduates, to the much-publicised vision of PM Narendra Modi for Muslims, ‘the skull-cap wearing Muslim holding the Quran in one hand and the laptop in the other’, the BJP government has shown its seriousness in reforming the madrasa curriculum and syllabus, bringing them on par with the employability demands of the times.

Yet the gap between implementation and acceptance by Muslim groups is visible – solely because the modernisation is being thrust by the Modi-led government and the Regressive Left-Lutyens Liberal constantly drives campaigns against any reform be it the banning of the instant Triple Talaq, the CAA, the farm laws, nullification of Article 370, bringing madrasas under the ambit of State and Central Boards. Indian Muslims are told it is an attack on their identity, culture and religious practices, essential or otherwise as happened recently with the Hijab ban in an educational institution in Karnataka and the subsequent ‘Shaheen Bagh” like mobilisation of useful idiots and the Islamists pushing their agenda under India’s liberal democracy.

It isn’t only necessary to include English, Science, Mathematics and Social Sciences along with dini taalim in the madrasas. As happens with an English or Hindi-medium education also, literacy and education are two different things. Even the most radicalised madrasa will make an individual literate but to get them educated on the fundamental duties of a citizen, what a nation is, to hold the land where we are born and live higher than the tribe, to not harbour “othering” mentality against neighbours, common people is difficult if the objective of the madrasa is to create an Ummah on the lines of the Muslim League, which divided the subcontinent into two and forever created irreparable fault lines whose legacy we modern Indian Muslims inherited and are paying the price for time and again.

Muslims have a guarantee from the Constitution of India to practise their faith but the Constitution was made by a Nation that struggled to liberate itself of a colonial power and is still struggling to liberate itself from the colonial mentality of demeaning our indigenous knowledge, cultures, faiths. Any religious institution like a madrasa standing in the way of that decolonization and assimilation and integration with Indic values needs to be razed to the ground in my opinion.

(Disclaimer: Views expressed above are author’s own.)


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